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Interview: Devils’ Patrick Dempsey

by Charles Trapunski

One of the hottest (no pun intended) shows of the pandemic is the series Devils, which is a financial thriller that explores the at times notorious working of an international bank and stars Alessandro Borghi as Massimo Ruggero. The first voice that the audience hears in the series, though, is of Patrick Dempsey, who is a bit of a wild card as Dominic Morgan, as the audience is frequently attempting to determine if the A Type can be trusted or not. On the phone from Los Angeles, the affable Dempsey certainly deepens the suspense. The show is finally now available to North American audiences on The CW and The W Network, (along with STACK TV) and viewers should have a devil of a time figuring out Dominic’s intentions.

Patrick Dempsey was a strong champion of both the series as well as his many notable pursuits for which he discussed in great detail. The following is a condensed and edited version of an in-depth chat with Patrick Dempsey of Devils.

Brief Take: What has this year meant for you as a person and as a professional?

Patrick Dempsey: Wow, that’s a big question to begin with. How do you break that down in one sitting? [laughs] The whole year started off in a sad manner with losing Kobe (Bryant). That is what set the tone for 2020 and of course, COVID and everything that’s been going on, an election year down here. It’s been a dark cloud for everyone and it’s trying to maintain a positive attitude on a daily basis and being disciplined through this whole process, it’s been really challenging. The good thing is that you’re spending much more time with your family and not being on the road that your relationships are deepening, which is great. Certainly challenging with a teenage daughter graduating this year and this entire generation going through these rites of passage is hard, but I think people are coming together. They’re certainly divided, but I think at the end of this…you look at history and you look at how times changed. The one thing that you can depend on in life is change and we’ll get through this and we’ll move on. Hopefully, it’s not too destructive until we get to the other side.

BT: We’ve been hearing a ton of amazing feedback for this series. My Boss’ mother and her friends in particular are OBSESSED with Devils. How do you feel about the fan reactions to your work and this series in particular?

PD: Well, that’s nice to hear. It’s hard to tell how people are perceiving it because I’m in isolation. I know it’s done incredibly well in Europe. Certainly huge in Rome and we’re releasing it throughout the world. It’s always nice to have validation- that you do something that people like and connect to it. Something like this is different than anything that I have done in the past and I like that. You need to keep pushing yourself, keep challenging yourself. I really loved working in Europe, I’ve now done a couple of projects with European directors and it’s great. You get to live in a different country, you get to work there, you get to understand what is happening socially, economically, emotionally in a country and that helps inform your outlook and your point of view as an artist and helps you grow as a person. I think that this series allows me an opportunity to continue to grow, so if people like the work it gives me more of an opportunity to work and for that, I’m grateful. When I started off, I left a small town in Maine and now I’m 30 some odd years into a career and I wanted to be a working actor and I am still grateful to be able to do that.

BT: You mentioned that Dominic is unlike any other character you have previously played. Specifically, how do you see him as unlike your other characters?

PD: I think that I am known for a lot of romantic comedies. Certainly for playing an archetype that is a romantic lead. You’re playing that character as more the lover, as more the romantic leading man, and this is something that you don’t know! That is what was appealing to me. I’ve been looking for something like this: much darker, not as obvious, you don’t know who he is and what are his motivations. As time goes by, you find out. What was fascinating to me was I didn’t know the ending of this show until about four weeks into production. [laughs] Then, when I found out some key moments, that was really, really fascinating to me, figuring out how to make the adjustments to make it work. I think that maybe not knowing helped me play a neutral condition leading the audience into a direction of: “Wait, is he good or is he bad?” I think that this is an important question to have remaining for quite some time. You don’t know who is doing what and why.

BT: You have an interesting dynamic with your co-star Alessandro Borghi. What did you enjoy most about working with him?

PD: Working with him was amazing. I had nothing but absolute trust and faith in him and we had an immediate connection. And I had such respect for him taking on such a role that had the vocabulary and the challenge of doing another character in not your native tongue and how he focused on that and his professionalism, really I had so much respect for him taking that on. His warmth and emotion is really infectious to work with. That was really good and we didn’t do a lot of rehearsals, we didn’t talk a lot, we really focused on what was happening in front of the camera, then afterward, we would play. It was great fun working with him.

BT: You use the suit that you wear and how you stand and walk to great effect in this series. With what do you lead when you are playing Dominic?

PD: Order is very important to Dominic. Everything has a place and it needs to be in that place. It has to stay that way. To him, chaos is his worst nightmare. That had to be reflected in how he presented himself and I was very demanding in how the suits would look, how his hair would be, his mannerisms and the control was very important.

BT: You have said that you are particular about the roles that you’re looking to play and described your interest upon finding this script and not knowing what was coming next. What did finding this project mean to you?

PD: It was really exciting. Before, I was nervous because it was a character I hadn’t previously played, in a whole new world. Working in Italy is different than working in America. Working in London is different than working in Italy. Having the ability to adapt was exciting to me, it was a new challenge. Also spending time with Guido Maria Brera, the writer, he was very informative and being able to explore inside the financial world what people are thinking, what they are doing was fascinating to me as well. All of it, I was inspired and excited.

BT: What was it like to act in a series such as this one with its own particular sense of style?

PD: When I first saw the assembly, because I came in probably a month after production began, they had shot a lot of Alessandro or Massimo’s interiors and I got to see…Nick (Hurran) was really clever in showing the crew and the cast what we had been doing up to that point. And that really motivated people because we had no idea how it was going to look. Once we saw what they were doing with the visual approach, it was incredibly inspiring. Because everything at that point, the transcends, as you have an idea of what it is like on the page when you do the table read. But then when you start to see it, it comes to light with the music and with the editing. Even in its rough form, everybody was…there was a moment of silence and everybody looked around like: “Oh, we’ve got something special here. Let’s get to work”.

BT: You’ve worked for a while in different mediums. What do you bring to this show from previous projects?

PD: Well, certainly when you’re working in Europe, you’re certainly bringing in the notoriety of being on a show that is successful around the world, with that brings excitement and you want to keep that excitement and keep it very positive and collaborative and keep the humility in the work. Then it’s really fun. Because it’s a team effort and you have the people who are in front of the camera and then you have the crew behind the camera and everybody has to be working together with one vision. When that is moving and when there’s harmony, there is nothing that’s more exciting and enjoyable. We had that. We had that right from the top, all the way down. It was really enjoyable.

BT: This series seems really well-suited to binge watching multiple episodes because it’s very gripping. What do you think will be the future trends in television and do you feel as through this series is leading the way?

PD: Streaming and stacking, or what they are calling stacking is binge-watching, is what is happening right now. We definitely have the technology. We are finally starting to get back into production, I know that the production company that we had are getting ready for Season 2 of Devils, they’re up and running in Italy. I think that people, we’re now watching at home, we’re not going as much to the theatres and we’re getting our information on demand. It is when we want it and what we want. Right now, it’s certainly an exciting time to be in television and the entertainment industry. But the question is always: “What is good storytelling?” You have to still find stories that are compelling. Then finding these stories, because there is a lot out there and there is so much streaming, it’s going to be interesting to see who will emerge. Through this pandemic, we’ve definitely seen the dominance of Netflix. Moving forward they’ve really led the way.

BT: What is the latest on your series Ways & Means, which was previously set to begin this year on CBS?

PD: We are still in the conversation part of this process saying “What are we going to do?” We’re waiting for the election to be able to rewrite and rediscover the story because we have no idea of what is going to be the political landscape. There are some assumptions, but that may not happen. As soon as we find out what happens in the election, then it’s getting into: “Okay, what is it now going to look like in the political world going into 2021?” Then “who is the leadership?” We’re waiting on that, but that’s going to be fun, that’s going to be a challenge. How do we make a political drama going into 2021 compelling and interesting? What’s going to be the political landscape? We don’t know. These are things for which we have to wait and see.

BT: What has it meant for you to bring the work you are doing at The Dempsey Center to the changing times?

PD: It has certainly been a saviour for us with the Center because all of our stuff is very high-touch. We don’t treat the disease, we treat the person. It’s holistic, it’s integrative medicine and we’ve had to pivot very quickly to make sure that all of our support services are online. Even the Reiki and the acupuncture, we’ve not yet been able to get around the acupuncture but teaching people at home to do Reiki and to self-care, our support groups are up and running and that is because of the technology that is available to us. Certainly, older people in rural Maine that are at higher risk, but we can now keep them from feeling totally isolated because we can get to them through the technology and they can be around other like-minded people who are going through the same struggles as them. The support groups are really helping the loneliness and the isolation. Look: we need to be in person. We miss the communal aspect of that, we miss the physical contact. But at least we can follow people, we can look at them and we can see emotionally where they are at and make sure that they are okay. Everything else is going to support this. I think that if we’re seeing anything coming out of this, if you’re in service of making someone else’s life better, I think that is what life is really about. Everything else is a distraction from what we should be doing. I think that as a society, this is what we have to focus on: loving, understanding and patience and tolerance. These are the things that we really need to work on.

BT: You’ve talked about how you’re reading Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. Do you think that looking back informs what is happening now? 

PD: I think that you look at Stoicism in general and in Rome, it was really a great opportunity to have a book such as Meditations – to walk around and look at civilization and its decay and it’s all the great things and all the negative things and where you are in time. I think that a lot of these principles work today, and there is a great young writer named Ryan Holiday who is doing really great work with Stoicism. I’ve been reading a lot of his stuff and that’s been helpful. Getting into philosophy and about what is it and I think that how to use those teachings to get us through the struggle that we are facing right now provide really important lessons. That all really started with my opportunity to travel and I am really grateful for the opportunity to go and work in Rome for Devils.

BT: Does this spirit of adaptation apply to your work with Dempsey-Proton Racing as well?

PD: That is all about change, having a brutal awareness of how to overcome obstacles and being aware of your surroundings. Really, the emphasis is on teamwork and on collaboration. A lot of what I have learned through sport and through Motorsport in particular, and racing at a very high level is concentration, dedication, teamwork, sacrifice and focus. That all lends itself to making life better- not only personally, for me, but for my family, my children and then into the work. How do you develop a team? How do you develop a strategy? You work with the engineers, there’s a certain science to that, there’s a certain methodical approach. If you apply this with a connection to your heart, I think then that creativity in life is a lot more fun and has a lot more meaning.

Devils airs Wednesdays at 9pm on W network

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Brief Take